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Godzilla Final Wars

It is the year 20XX. The terror named Godzilla has been frozen, and left in a slumberous state in Antarctica. His neutralization has led to the rise of the EDF (the Earth Defense Force), an elite team of monster fighters that utilize special training and technology to stop the rampaging giants that have plagued the earth for generations. A relative peace has been struck, and the world is a semi-safe place to live in.

Godzilla Final Wars
Then all Hell breaks loose. Several dormant monsters all-out attack various world cities all at once, spreading the EDF warriors thin. When the situation looks its bleakest, the creatures inexplicably disappear, seemingly sucked into alien spacecrafts that arrived on earth in the nick of time. Humanity, in its appreciation, welcomes the aliens as its saviors, and disbands the United Nations to make way for a new Galactic Senate. But there are some members of the human race that suspect the extra terrestrial “Xilians” of foul play, their salvation of Earth appearing all too convenient. When Xilian’s true plans are revealed, the Final War is initiated, and the earth is left with only one hope…Godzilla. Oh no!

Some movies have been compared to junk food. If Renny Harlin’s manic opuses ( Deep Blue Sea, Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2: Die Harder) can be correlated with cheeseburgers, then Ryuhei Kitamura’s masterpiece of the insane should be known as a Super-Sized value meal, ground into a fine paste, recooked, and injected into the viewer's femoral artery via the optical nerves. It’s colourful, it requires no thought, has no nutritional value, may cause nausea, and could kill you in large doses – but man does it taste good.
Though the DVD contained no English subtitles or audio (with a few exceptions, mostly pertaining to a single English speaking character) I found it pretty easy to decipher the basic plot, which bears a striking resemblance to that of Star Wars, The Matrix, and most ironically, Independence Day (the irony being that the makers of that film went on to produce the much maligned American version of Godzilla back in 1998). Kitamura has never shied away from Matrix counterfeiting, but if the Wachowski Brothers hadn’t adapted their masterpiece from so many sources already, I’m pretty sure they’d be inclined to contact their lawyers.

Godzilla Final Wars
Despite (or perhaps in spite) of his wacky output, Kitamura was the deciding factor for me personally in whether or not I was even interested in Godzilla Final Wars. Thank the giant radioactive dinosaur that he came through for me. His specific brand of absurd, post- Evil Dead/Hard Boiled filmmaking has always made my day. His films are not high art, or by any means original, but they are the best junk food fun that modern cinema has to offer.

The bad news is, for the Big-G fans out there, that our hero doesn’t make a real appearance until after the halfway point. When he finally does show his ugly mug, he is simply a weapon, as are all the other monsters (all fifteen of them). The human and human-looking Xilian characters are the leads, and the story theirs. Godzilla Final Wars is much more a Kitamura film than it is a Godzilla film, which is what made it special to me, but will ultimately turn off most fans. The good news is that the majority of the effects are of the man-in-suit variety, and the correlating digital effects are either used to up the action ante, or in their own sort of purposely rubber looking way. Unlike the ’98 American version, which attempted photo-realistic digital effects, this film embraces its cheesy heritage. I am of the opinion that it is not necessarily the realness of effects, nor the medium they were created in, but the film that surrounds them that dictates their value. This is a case for sort of ropey visual effects.

Those afraid of the lack of subtitles can rest easy, as in addition to a simple plot; there is an English speaking character that often reiterates facts. Actor Don Frye (a pro wrestler in Japan) fits right in with the futuristic man-in-suit utopia where everyone speaks their own language, even if they are responded to in a foreign tongue. He also looks like he escaped from a Street Fighter II arcade console. The rest of the cast is mostly filled out by middle level Japanese B-stars. These include such recognizable Kitamura regulars Tak Sakaguchi ( Versus, Battlefield Baseball) and Kanae Uotani ( Sky High, Aragami) as Xilian foot solders, and the great Jun Kunimura ( Kill Bill, Ichi: The Killer) as a grizzled Japanese military general. However, it is former Crazy 88 member Kazuki Kitamura, who plays Planet X’s insane leader that steals the show from even Godzilla himself. His flamboyant performance is analogous to that of Eddie Izzard with Kung Fu skills.

The icing on this particular cake was the use of the American Godzilla, who attacks Sydney, Australia. Referred to on the box art as “Zilla”, but known to hardcore Godzillaphiles as “GINO” (Godzilla In Name Only), this creature is the one completely computer generated character in the film. He is also, if you excuse the overused Internet jargon, properly ‘owned’ by the real thing, who takes him out in a matter of seconds.

Godzilla Final Wars
Unlike the cheaper, movie only release also available, this special edition utilizes a near perfect anamorphically enhanced, 2.35:1 transfer. There are a few instances of digital grain, and some of the darker scenes are a tad washed out, but otherwise I can’t find any reason to comment negatively on this presentation. Certain cities during the film’s opening assault are almost color coded, like the intersecting storylines in Stephen Soderbergh’s drug-traffic chef d'oeuvre, Traffic. The saturation is pretty sharp, and during these sequences the black levels plunge into beautiful depths. The sharpness of the transfer does make the digital effects appear a touch videogame-like, but as I said in the review, for some reason it works for the film.

This Dolby Digital EX track is very aggressive. Effects are well separated, buildings explode with vigor, and monsters cry and fly over the audience’s head with much abandon. The strange score, a mix of typical post- Matrix techno and power pop, is undermined by a few Keith Emerson (?!) written themes. The excruciating lameness of the music is, like the ropey effects and plot, surprisingly effective, lending cadence to the theory that Godzilla Final Wars is actually a thinly veiled spoof. Godzilla’s reveal is accompanied by a thoroughly rousing roar that vibrates the room and scares the cat to pieces. This is the best non-R1 surround mix I’ve ever heard. After much deliberation and checking with my Japanese speaking roommate, I discovered the difference between the two audio tracks supplied on disc one are that one is the original track, and the other has all the dialogue dubbed into Japanese, including that of Don Frye.

If you are fluent in Japanese, this is the collector’s edition for you. The copious special features are spread over all three discs, and offer a candid glimpse into the world and history of everyone’s favourite Tokyo smashing behemoth. Unfortunately for me, I am not at all learned in the ways of any language but my own. Despite my handicap, I was still able to enjoy some of the features.

On the first disc, the only extras are an assortment of trailers and a ‘jump to a monster’ option. The trailers are all very similar, but like most Japanese ad campaigns offer up the release as an honest to God cultural event. This apparently didn’t work, as the film was a bit of a flop in its native country. The ‘jump to a monster’ option is simply a variation on New Line Cinema’s Nightmare on Elm Street 'jump to a nightmare' feature, which offers the option of skipping over such pesky nonessentials like plot. The icons are monster-coated for non-Japanese menu surfers.

Godzilla Final Wars
Disc two covers the making of Final Wars itself from concept to completion. This includes more trailers, and other advertising featurettes. Two of these disguise themselves as actual documentaries, but turn into virtual ‘how-to’ lectures on the correct way to celebrate Godzilla’s 50th anniversary. This involves buying all the past films on DVD before seeing Final Wars. And while they aren’t being shy about hocking wares, the DVD producers throw in a little Godzilla inspired cell phone ad for good measure.

After watching the money making ballyhoo, I was treated to a 52-minute-long behind the scenes documentary. Made up of interview and rough assembly footage, it is comparable to pretty much every well-made making of I’ve ever seen. It covers set making, digital effects creation, fight choreography, photography methods, and monster direction. It is succeeded by a 27-minute interview with Kitamura, a brief chat with some bloke named Kyle Cooper (in English!), footage from Godzilla’s Hollywood Walk of Fame induction, a short VFX workshop (pertaining entirely to Rodan’s destruction of New York City), and a longer cut of a PBS style question and answer segment filmed for the movie. Last, but certainly not least, there are image galleries containing dozens of production sketches and storyboards.

Disc three pertains more strictly to Godzilla’s past, in celebration of his 50th Birthday. The main feature is a documentary covering the entire story of the great lizard. I really wish it could have been in English, as it seems to be the best feature in the set, perhaps even better than the film itself. Aside from the doc, disc three also has its fair share of actor and producer interviews, a photo album, and a bizarre short history of Godzilla’s ever changing head.

Godzilla Final Wars
This is probably not the Godzilla film fans have been waiting for, but Godzilla Final Wars is still a regular laugh riot. This will be a fan dividing film, no doubt. It makes Godzilla a secondary character, brings about wonky digital effects, and includes cameos by such fan-despised characters as Minya: The Son of Godzilla. Fans of director Ryuhei Kitamura will likely have a good time, and fans of the blue laser spitting, green skinned giant may hate me for my recommendation.

You can buy this title for US $73.83 at CDJapan.